Requies-cat in Patchy

A friend of mine crossed over the Rainbow Bridge a few weeks ago. More than a friend. For more than five years, he was my brother-in-law. For at least thirteen he was my skittish orange pal and son of my future father-in-law. I’m talking about Patch the Cat, a beloved fixture at my in-laws’ home, now christened Vacation Cottage in honor of my son’s many visits, a singular slinking blur of nervousness and distant warmth that nonetheless captured our hearts with his unique affections, affectations, and antics. And he will be missed.

I first met Mr. Patch when Nancy and I started dating and her own cat, ‘Saki, was still living with him. ‘Saki and Patch never truly hit it off, the circumstances of why were never wholly clear (neither would come clean), and periodically Patch would feel the need to offer ‘Saki “rapid fire”, a series of quick paw slaps to her face to snap her back in line. The cause of these disciplinary actions is hard to determine but, having housed ‘Saki myself for several years, I have no doubt his corrective measures were justified.

Patch the Cat

Patch as a young kitten

While living with my future in-laws for several years, I had several dreams of Patch dressed up as historical or literary characters; I can’t explain why. They were often vivid and humorous, and they featured Mr. Patch in signature attire. There was The House at Patch Corner, featuring him as Winnie-the Pooh. Adolf Patchler, with him jack stepping about with a little Hitler mustache and riding crop. He and ‘Saki as Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle from My Fair ‘Saki, both dressed up in Edwardian finery. And my favorite, Amelia Patchhart aka Earhart, where Patch flew over my head, saluted me with his paw and gave me a hearty, “meow” as he/she flew bravely into history and mystery. Again, no rational reason for these dreams, but good memories all.

Out of dreamland, but still somehow in the realm of fantasy, Mr. Patch, who never really lost his manly appetites despite having lost the corresponding anatomy, had a beloved black and white wool checked sweater named Lolita that he would “get busy with” by gripping her with his teeth, dragging her about the house, and vigorously twitching his tail and hindquarters in a seemingly trancelike motion. He would do this frequently, sometimes at inopportune moments, such as if guest were over, and always with the greatest of fascination from all who observed it. My favorite memory here – and I’m not making this up – was once when I decided to follow him with her as he dragged her up upstairs between his legs and into his bedroom. As I watched, transfixed, he turned around once he was in the bedroom with her still gripped in his teeth, put his head down and to the door, and closed the door on me as I watched from the hallway. They were to have privacy that day and voyeurs were not wanted! What a cat! He will be missed.

He loved chocolate pudding, he loved having his hair combed, he had been trained to shake hands, and he showed affection by doing that rubbing motion that cats do, but from several feet away. He didn’t like to be held, except by his daddy, Wron, my father-in-law, and he had learned out of love to say his name, sitting sometimes for hours by the door croaking out, “Rooon. Rooon,” when his human had to go to work. While both were home, he was almost always at Wron’s side, or in view, or “on guard” in case Wron did something exciting, needed assistance, or was ready with his prescribed Whiskas Temptations, which were doled out with loving clockwork precision. There was never any doubt whose cat he really was. He had come into the family as Mary Anne’s cat, but his heart belonged to Daddy.

Mr. Patch was nearly seventeen and in ill health when he made the last trip to the vet from which he didn’t return. Shortly before his death, he began to warm to Bup, allowing him to pet and hug his frail frame before doddering off to hide in his cat bed and get some much needed sleep. Bup was thrilled by this, loved Patch as much as his own brothers and sisters, and referred to Patchy as his cat in the same breath with ‘Seyde and Duke and Shadow. I’m so glad that Bup, at the end, was to find a loving relationship with this little soul who is as much a part of my memories of Nancy’s household from the very beginning. We all loved Patchy dearly, and he was as much of an idiosyncratic fixture in that household as any human could be. After all, when you spend seventeen years of your life with someone (frequently less), they all too easily go from being a pet to being family. And Patch, my friend, my brother-in-law, my dream weaver, was just that. And he will be missed.

Patchy, may you find peace at the other end of the Rainbow Bridge, dear soul.

Until we meet again,

RIP,

Jason

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Senior Mr. Patch in one of his favorite haunts

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Saying Hello

About a week after The Nix’s death (the subject of my last blog post, “Saying Goodbye,”) I received a series of compassionate texts from a friend of mine in Fredericksburg. Their daughter had adopted a cat, a one-year-old snow white named Aaron, who was being repeatedly bullied by their much older cat named Hillary, so they were looking to find him a new home. Since we had just lost a cat, would we consider taking Aaron in? I was reluctant. My little girl had just died, I was still dealing with those emotions, she hadn’t even come home from the crematorium at this point, and now I was being asked to consider taking in another life. I felt guilty and sad. I was also intrigued by the pictures being sent to me of a healthy all-white robust boy with a bent ear whom I was assured was good with kids and just wanted a home. I hemmed and hawed, waited a week, and then decided that John Adams and I would pay Aaron a house call.

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The White Shadow, lounging on his divan in Nancy’s office

We stayed at my friend’s house for almost two hours while John Adams chased Aaron about the house. Aaron was friendly but cautious, tolerant but quick to hide if John Adams got too exuberant; and our son was more than exuberant the entire time we were there. We learned that Aaron had an ear mite problem that was being treated, was neutered, and was caught up on all his shots. He favored my friend’s mother, but seemed to just like attention overall. We left for home, with a good feeling, to discuss him with Nancy, and to potentially make room in our home and hearts for another member of the family.

The following Monday afternoon we brought Aaron home. That evening coincided with the first time that John Adams had ever had a friend over to play with him. He and his friend, Leah, darted about the house periodically with John Adams desperate to show off his new cat. Things went smoothly but cautiously…and then around 7 PM Nancy arrived home. Almost as if to say, “You! You’re the one I’ve been waiting for!” Aaron took one look at Nancy and fell in love. Bear in mind they had never met before. John Adams and I had made two trips to Aaron’s former home, but neither time was Nancy present. He saw her, he climbed up on her lap, he head rubbed, drooled, fluffed her belly, gave her “sniffies,” and followed her all around the house the remainder of the night. John Adams and I may have picked up a cat, but it was quickly evident who had really won his heart in a manner of seconds. This pattern has not changed.

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“What are you lookin’ at? I got Mama!”

In the two weeks since he has joined our family Aaron – rechristened White Shadow or Shadowfax – has more than made our home his own. He is perhaps the most chill, tolerant, overly affectionate cat I’ve ever owned or seen. He quickly made friends with his brother, Duke, and they romp and play throughout the night. He has slept twice with John Adams in his bed, and endures endless “squeezy” hugs, kisses, pettings, loud squeals, bed jumps, and all manner of toddler affections, only rarely shielding himself from the line of fire when it really is getting out of control. He sleeps on the bed, on Nancy whenever possible, seeks out company, and has yet to hiss or spit at any member of the family, two or four-legged. His sister, ‘Seyde, is still acclimating to her new brother. She has gone from very jealous, to mildly jealous, to somewhat impertinently perturbed in two weeks. Our hope is in another few weeks he will have won her over too.

Just as the wand chooses the wizard, it would seem that Aaron and fate chose us to be the parents of a walking snowball of chill love. He truly has been an absolute joy since he joined the family, and has in every way helped to heal the wound that was left by The Nix’s passing. She was unique and is never far from our minds, but like it or not, life is change, and life has truly blessed us with another furred family member to bring us joy, grow up with John Adams, and allow us to share our love with. We welcome him with open arms, hearts and tuna cans. We are very lucky, and we’d like to believe he feels the same.

Namaste,

Jason

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A boy and his cat.

Children’s Book Announcement – Mommy Made a Beastie (But I Love Her Anyway)

Today, our new children’s book, Mommy Made a Beastie (But I Love Her Anyway), is available on Amazon. Two years ago, after the success of our first children’s book, Daddy Doesn’t Purr (But I Love Him Anyway), I set about working on the sequel. After several months of brainstorming with Kisaki – the elder cat authoress of the book that became Beastie – we hit upon the idea of telling the story of John Adams’s birth from her point of view. ‘Saki was the first person to know that Nancy was pregnant. She climbed upon Nancy’s belly while she slept (something she never normally would do) and scowled disapprovingly at her mommy with this look of, “What the hell have you done to us?” That sentiment lingered long after John Adams was born.

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Cover art by Michelle McNally, cover design by Maryann Brown

The events of the book are all true. Kisaki loathed her baby brother at first and went out of her way to muscle him off Nancy’s lap, take focus from him and put it back on herself where she felt it belonged. When John Adams moved and then talked, hers was one of the first faces he saw (due to her constant proximity to Nancy), and he instantly fell in love with her. She did not return the sentiment. He would see her and light up, giggle, smile, wriggle, and all manner of verbal and non-verbal gestures to get her approval. She was not amused.

When nothing that ‘Saki tried gained her exclusive access to Nancy, she became visibly irritable and despondent for a time. Like so many children, she just didn’t want to share her favored parent’s affections with any other child. Finally, in either desperation or conciliation, Kisaki sidled up to her brother, plopped her butt against him and claimed him for her own. It seemed that if she couldn’t have exclusive access to Mommy, the next best thing was to make peace with the Beastie who had her attention. From that point forward, grudging acceptance turned to icy affection, and with a little help from her overly zealous brother, that affection turned into love. Until the end of her life, the two became inseparable.

Yes, I did drop that bomb here: Kisaki has since passed away. She died two years ago due to complications of mouth cancer. Despite his age (he was only fifteen months old when she passed), John Adams has not forgotten about her. It would seem he imbued a little stuffed black and white cat that rests on his bed with his best memories of his sister. The cat was given to him by a friend of ours, “so that he would always remember his sister”, and it seems to have worked. He refers to the stuffed animal as ‘Saki, and we often talk about her joy-riding in Daddy’s White Car, my car that broke down a few months ago. Daddy’s White Car has become the “Farm Upstate” metaphor of the Michael Family. It includes ‘Saki, Snaky, Annie and Dorothy (two goldfish), and a particularly favored and contentious piece of orange cake Nancy threw out. But I digress.

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‘Saki in her ‘Cover pose.’

Mommy Made a Beastie is now the second book in a planned three book ‘Love Anyway’ series. In Daddy Doesn’t Purr, Duke is shown to love me despite our differences. In Beastie, ‘Saki learns to love and accept John Adams despite her jealousy. In the planned third and final (?) book, The Nix, our Manx cat born genetically without a tail, learns to love herself despite being born different from the norm. In all three, embracing love as your primary motivational guide is the key to a happier existence. Love anyway, despite differences, emotional insecurities, and unexpected life changes; despite self-doubt and outward ridicule from others. Out of this notion the happy accident of the ‘Love Anyway’ series was born.

Both books retail for under $12 on Amazon and can be bought both there and on CreateSpace where we receive a better share of the royalties. As added incentive, roughly 1/3 of the sales price of each book is donated to either animal charities in Virginia, or to another as of yet un-chosen animal charity in the U.S. If you’re looking for a Christmas or Holiday present that also benefits animals in a small way, please consider checking out our books. If you’ve read Daddy Doesn’t Purr and you enjoyed it, please consider leaving us a review on Amazon. These books have been labors of love for me, Francie and Michelle McNally, Nancy, Maryann Brown, and, of course, Duke and ‘Saki. Please check them out if you have a moment. And remember: when all else fails…

Love Anyway,

Jason

Here’s the Amazon link to the book: Mommy Made a Beastie

Here’s a link to my Amazon Author page: Jason on Amazon

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‘Saki and John Adams – BFFs

Healing Haiku

I haven’t done a haiku post in more than a month. These were written earlier this year, just after midsummer. Most in this batch are like mantras/little reminders to remain calm and centered as the world swirls around you. A lot is going on in the Michael household, and there’s no question that I need them just as much as anyone else. May these poems bring you peace, centeredness, joy, or at least a way back towards the good. Until next time…

Namaste,

Jason

4598
I am perfect health.
I am ever increasing
Abundance and joy.

4599
Stand on the sidelines
And you have no one to blame
For your apathy.

4600
Don’t expect others
To make your hopes, dreams, and needs
Their priorities.

4601
Be an oasis
Of peace, love, and non-judgment.
Welcome the world in.

4602
Is life war or peace?
Is the universe hostile
Or friendly to you?

4603
There’s no assurance
That one life can change the world,
Though many succeed.

4605
There’s poop on the floor.
And there’s cat poop by the door.
No more poop, no more.

4607
The secret of life?
Find a passion for something;
Commit to its care.

4608
There will be down days,
But they don’t need to rule you
If you manage them.

4609
All good things take time:
Babies, novels, omelets,
And well-designed lives.

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First Fall at the Michael Ranch, Circa 2010

A Boy and His Cat(s)

I have written a lot about my son lately (My Son, The Train and My Son, The Birthday Train), but there are many other good things going on in my life, and in the world all around. I’m going to focus on some of those events next post, but for now I need to spend a few lines chewing on the special and unique relationship that my son, John Adams, has with his second best friend – his best friend after all is his blanket known as Best Friend Blankie or BFB for short – that black and white whirlwind of chaos with which he is growing up: his kid sister, Criseyde, or as we call her mostly, ‘Seyde. (Pronounced: “Say-duh”)

John Adams, who just turned three on September 11, has grown up surrounded by cats. The day he came home from the hospital he was sniffed, looked over, avoided at all costs, and given ‘the stink eye’ by any and all of the three cats that resided with us at his birth. Two of our cats, Duke and The Nix, chose to be wary of the little tyke upon arrival and, though each has mellowed some in their affections toward his rambunctiousness, maintain to this day a respectful distance when Bup (as we call John Adams) chooses to assert himself in their direction. The fact that he now assists in their nightly feeding has softened their attitudes considerably, but the guard is still up. Our third cat – the elderly, perennially irritated by everything tuxedo cat known as Kisaki – was far more inquisitive and hands on.

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Infant John Adams watched over by “Mama” ‘Saki on their changing table

‘Saki, you see, was Nancy’s cat from kitten to grave, and dearly possessive of her mama. In fact, it was ‘Saki that firstly and correctly predicted Nancy’s pregnancy by climbing onto Nancy’s belly (an unheard of move for Her Curmudgeonliness), and staring into Nancy’s heart with the look of ‘What the hell have you done to us now?’ upon her face. When Bup arrived, she would be the last one to concede that he had earned a place in the family. Far from avoiding Bup, she went out of her way to maintain her status as Nancy’s Number One Child, as numerous family photos attest. And as the year they spent together went on (for ‘Saki eventually succumbed to illness and old age), we watched the jealousy morph into a grudging respect, then love, then finally a kind of beautiful maternal bond before the end. It was obvious to us that ‘Saki, perhaps sensing her own mortality, chose to put her last best efforts of love into the custody of her baby brother, and right before the end they seemed inseparable. Somehow this bond of love has never been forgotten, for two years later there remains on John Adams’s bed a prized little black and white stuffed cat with beautiful eyes that, if you ask him who that is, he holds her up and beams, “That’s ‘Saki!” Children sense love when they don’t understand words, and these two earned a love that remains unexplainably in his memory, if transferred to a stuffed likeness. ‘Saki was gone shortly after Bup turned one, but she’s never been forgotten. How is that possible?

Enter Criseyde.

In so many ways, ‘Seyde came into our lives as a therapeutic rebound from the loss of ‘Saki. Nancy was adamant almost immediately upon ‘Saki’s death that we needed to find a new “tuxy” to succeed the beloved ‘Saki, so that she could pour the attentions of her heart into a newfound love, rather than wallow in the long night of remorse. We went up to King George Animal Control the day after ‘Saki’s death, and there was this loudmouthed, pushy, affectionate tuxedo kitten that seemed to call deliberately and adamantly to Nancy from the room next to where we were. She also immediately took to the infant John Adams’s squealish advances, and a second visit a few days later produced similar results. Criseyde entered our lives just a few short days later, as if she had chosen Nancy and John Adams for her own, and I was along for the ride to feed her voracious appetite. Little of that has changed in the ensuing two years.

'Ceyde upon arrival and 1 year later

‘Ceyde upon arrival and 1 year later

But what has grown considerably is the bond that John Adams and ‘Seyde share as siblings growing up together, both babies turned toddlers. She desires to be with him, sleep with him, and race about the house with him with abandon, till his own 3-year old boyish tendencies prove to be too wild. Then she heads for high ground to let him cool down. He won’t let her sleep with him (yet), but he must constantly know her whereabouts, beams when she comes near him, feeds her nightly, insists she come up on the bed and sit with him when he wakes up, and romps about the house chasing after her after announcing, “I’m gonna go play with my cat!” He loves her, if sometimes a bit too roughly, but her tolerance of his energetic affection is quite remarkable.

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‘Ceyde and Bup on the sofa with Best Friend Blankie between them

And, yes, like all siblings they have their share of spats, mostly as I said, because of Bup not understanding yet how to properly channel his affections in her direction. When he gets too rough with her, or scares her in any way, she consistently gives him at least two warning meows before proceeding to more corporal means of admonishment. In one now infamous family incident, Nancy and I from another room heard the meows, then Bup’s yelp of pain. When we arrived in the living room he was standing holding his arm while less than 2 feet away ‘Seyde sat on a small hassock glaring back at him. As we entered he pointed at her and bellowed, “No. You not gonna cut me! Ever again!” And Nancy and I, bemused and dismayed, could hear the sounds of Social Services knocking about our ears. He had gotten too rough, she had educated him, and ten minutes later they were the best of friends again on the sofa. Such is the almost daily dynamic in our household.

As a boy, I grew up surrounded by dogs, big and little. I love that about my upbringing and want to add dogs into our home as soon as we have a fenced in yard and a home that doesn’t restrict pets. I always think of dogs as ‘man’s best friend’ as the saying goes, but in the instance of my son, circumstances and serendipity have proven otherwise. In his case – Best Friend Blankie excepted, of course – his best friends have proven to be two black and white beauties. One that grew to love and nurture him as a baby before she crossed over, and one to grow up with and educate him in the ways of gentleness, play, and affection. What little boy could ask for more?

Namaste,

Jason

Kisaki, the Empress

Kisaki, the Empress. Remember me.

Still Wild About Hank (And Damned Proud of It!)

On Sunday, August 14, Nancy and I attended the Virginia/US Premiere of the new documentary, Wild About Hank, the true story of the cat that ran for US Senate in 2012. Hank’s story holds a very special place in both our hearts. We learned about his bid for Congress shortly after it started. We bought bumper stickers and a lawn sign. We followed him on Facebook, liked his campaign messages, and even drove to meet him at Felix and Oscar’s pet store on Backlick Rd. in Northern Virginia when he was on the campaign trail. On Election Day, in the race between George Allen and now Vice-Presidential Democratic nominee Tim Kaine, we proudly wrote his name in and voted for him. Though he came in third, Hank received just shy of 7,000 votes statewide. Yes, Hank was a cat, but to many of us he was more than that: he was a movement. One we proudly supported.

Nancy and I posing before the Wild About Hank movie sign

Nancy and I posing before the Wild About Hank movie sign

Now, four years later, much has changed, much has stayed the same, and, generally speaking politically, things are worse than ever. Hank passed away in 2014 due to declining health complications so there’s no comeback possible. The 2016 Presidential Election is made up of two candidates who are arguably the two most distrusted and/or despised people in America, all the while other candidates are either denied or manipulated out of having a voice by the two big machines, and everyone is bracing for the potential violent response that could be the day after Election Day. It’s not hard to despair in such times, and I’ve written about some of my feelings on this previously in another post, “Primary Colors,” so there’s no further need to dwell here. Needless to say, sitting in the Cinema Arts Theater in Fairfax, VA when the movie finally started around 7 PM, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia and sadness for the good old days…from just four years ago.

The documentary, Wild About Hank, is a short and sweet 30 minute reminiscence of the late beloved feline visionary. Utilizing Facebook quotes, stock footage from the campaign, and seven primary interviews – including Republican challenger George Allen (Tim Kaine was unavailable for some reason) – the documentary briskly recounts owners Matthew O’Leary and Anthony Roberts’s reasons for Hank’s run, the process of getting him on (or not on) the ballot, the campaign itself, and the post-campaign life and eventual death of their beloved boy. Very lovingly crafted by director Emma Kouguell, who was on hand to introduce the film and be a part of the post-screening panel Q and A, the film is a valentine to those fans who took part in Hank’s rise, run, and decline. On a very personal level, when the stock BBC footage surfaced about halfway through the film that included both Nancy and I snapping photos of Hank, only to be followed by a still photo of he and I discussing his campaign finance reform policies, we nearly leaped out of our seats with joy.  But the real substance of the documentary lies in the interviews of a few of his biggest fans, and in their responses as to why they would ever vote for a cat.

Hank the Cat for U.S. Senate, March 2012

Hank the Cat for U.S. Senate, March 2012

In one very emotional and poignant response toward the end of the film, one of the interviewees is recalling Hank’s run for Senate and discussing it with a mix of pride and deep-felt sadness. She recounts how her own district was so close to call that before she cast her ballot, she was pressured by friends out of voting for Hank, being told she was throwing her vote away on a third party write-in, and that it was her civic duty to vote for a particular candidate. She caved, didn’t vote for Hank, and through tears has regretted it ever since. She recounts emotionally how supporting Hank made her feel a part of the democratic process, and how proud she was to be supporting a clean-run campaign where due to Hank’s presence, candidates “would have to show up and be kind,” and where she knew the intentions of her candidate were noble. She then, to paraphrase, asks the question of us all, “What does it say about the state of American politics that a cat can win the hearts and minds of disaffected voters in a way that the humans we run for office can’t?”

What indeed.

With almost 7,000 votes, and over sixteen thousand dollars raised for animal charities in Virginia, to say nothing of the intangible amount of good his campaign did to raise awareness on animal rights and spay and neuter issues, I proudly supported Hank in 2012, and will gladly do so again when the right cat comes along.

Till then, we’re stuck with the Fat Cats. Lucky us.

Long Live Hank,

Jason

 

P.S. Here is the link to the official Wild About Hank website where you can view the trailer. http://www.wildabouthank.com/ We were told the film will be available for streaming later this year, so check back regularly.

Here is the BBC stock footage that includes Nancy and I: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-17348212

Here is Hank’s Wikipedia Page:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hank_the_Cat

Happy Exploring!

Ciao and Meow.

The cake at the Virginia Premiere of Wild About Hank

The cake at the Virginia Premiere of Wild About Hank

 

The Boy Who Lived

The killing of Harambe over Memorial Day Week (May 28), the male Lowland Silverback Gorilla who refused to vacate his facility after being summoned by his handlers when a four-year-old boy climbed into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo has, as usual, brought out the best and worst in us as Americans. Collectively, we have breathed a sigh of relief that the little boy has escaped unharmed. Had he been killed, maimed, crushed to death, it would have been a national tragedy caught on numerous cell phones and iPads for the entire world to mourn. We thankfully avoided that and the boy is safe. That done, we have turned to “armchair quarter-backing” the zoo officials for their decision to kill a beloved fixture at the zoo, and even more so, looking to vilify the mother of the boy who, through some measure of distraction, incompetence, irresponsibility, or inexperience, let her son wander far enough from her care that he could enter a gorilla pen, and as a result, Harambe had to be sacrificed. That the family is African-American, the father was not present, and the father has a criminal record, have all become fuel for a disturbing racial fever dream, and the mother has received numerous death threats as the dark underbelly of America attempts to hold her accountable and make her pay for the death of beloved Harambe. Where we should be celebrating the rescue of the child and reverently mourning the sacrifice of Harambe, we are more preoccupied with blaming, judging, and race-hating. Sadly, this is just status quo in 21st century USA.

The story has some extra special meaning for me because when I was growing up my family owned two monkeys. Yes, that’s right, monkeys. Most people nowadays don’t remember a time in America when primates were household pets, but I do. When I was growing up in the early 1970s we owned two monkeys: Dottie and Cheetah. Many people don’t even believe me when I tell them that, but I have the pictures to prove it.

Dottie was a Spider Monkey and, truly, I don’t remember much about her; I was very young. My parents loved her, she got big, unwieldy, and a touch unpredictable – read fierce – and as a precaution and with great sadness, my parents gave her to a local PA zoo to live out her life, protected and in peace. Cheetah I remember much better. Cheetah had a place of honor in our house, a giant elevated cage smack in the middle of the dining room. She wore a little cloth diaper when she was out of the cage, which was frequent; she climbed gleefully up and down my Mom’s blue curtains; and she loved to steal and eat everyone’s maraschino cherries off their ice cream sundaes on the dining room table. She was gentle, intelligent, childlike, almost human. When she passed away after a good life, my parents inquired about getting another monkey, but the laws had changed. Primates were no longer pets; my parents were outraged, and thus ended monkeys (kinda) in my family tree.

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Cheetah and me, 1974

As a parent of a two-year old, I can’t help but agree with the Cincinnati Zoo’s decision to put Harambe down. Jane Goodall, Jack Hanna, and many other experts have supported the decision and I believe I must also, but like them I don’t have to like the sacrifice. I know that if John Adams had gotten away from me and somehow gotten into a dangerous animal’s cage, I would want the authorities to do everything they could to protect his life, whether he or I was at fault or not. And from the moment that little boy entered that enclosure and Harambe disobeyed the command to vacate, the gorilla was doomed. Had the zookeepers hesitated and the child had been killed, it would have been a public relations nightmare: the zoo’s reputation would’ve been ruined, a human family destroyed and outraged, jobs would’ve been lost, lawsuits enacted, revenue lost, and on and on. There was no other choice available: a human child, knowingly or unknowingly, broke the rules, and a gorilla was going to make the ultimate sacrifice.

To date, I’ve seen little credible journalism on the attending mother, so it’s hard to comment knowledgeably on what happened there, though many are doing so anyway. Was she on her cell phone as many have speculated? Was she using the confines of the zoo as a babysitting service rather than managing her child? To what extent was she negligent? It’s hard to say at this point without all the facts; however, I do feel confident  – while acknowledging that accidents happen – saying that there was at least some fault on her part. Unless she was dealing with another emergency and he just slipped away, it would seem that she simply overestimated her ability to manage the child, and that hubris cost Harambe his life. Let’s hope she has learned something from this.

All through Memorial Day Weekend I’ve been reminded of that beautiful penultimate scene in Saving Private Ryan where Tom Hanks, as he’s dying, looks at Matt Damon’s character and says, “Earn this.” So many people died to bring Damon’s character, Ryan, safely home. His life was deemed important enough that many others sacrificed theirs for his. The metaphor is unfortunate, clear, burdensome, and disturbing. The Four-Year-Old-Who-Lived has no clear idea at this point in his life what just was done to save him, but he will be made aware of it someday, the media will see to that, and his life will be called into account. The burden of national recompense can’t really fall to the parents. They’ve been turned on, shamed, vilified, and threatened by the public. That kind of societal contempt doesn’t breed lasting gratitude. So, unfairly or not, the burden has fallen to the child to make Harambe’s sacrifice of his own life worthwhile, and to heal the national wound that has been Harambe’s loss.

I truly hope when the child grows up he is healthy and strong, wise and kind, and knows what one beloved animal gave in the summer of 2016 so that he might live, and makes some effort to make redress. We as a nation need this. Our national soul requires healing and cries out for a meaningful happy ending that places Harambe’s sacrifice in a positive context beyond, I’m sorry to say, the fact that he had to die so a human boy might live. That’s not the boy’s fault necessarily, but it is now, I fear, his burden to bear.

So I say to him: Accidents happen. No blame, no punishment, no judgment; truly. Only love. We are all happy and lucky you are alive. But when you grow up – and we all hope you will – please, PLEASE do the right and kind thing by the men and women who saved you, and by Harambe who died for you:

Earn This.

With Love and Light,

Jason

Harambe

Harambe RIP

Putting a Price on Love?

This was a very stressful week in the Michael household. Early in the week our eldest cat, The Nix, started upon a peeing spree around the house that hit several pieces of furniture that heretofore had not been sprayed on by any of our cats. We thought that the ongoing turf war that exists between her and our newer, younger female cat, Criseyde, had temporarily escalated and, after cleaning the furniture we assumed (and hoped) it was little more than an isolated incident. By Wednesday, when I got The Nix to stand up on her perch only to discover that her whole back end and legs were soaked in her own pee, it had become apparent that there was a more serious problem in the works. I called her veterinarian, Dr. Pauline Knowles, owner of a mobile veterinary unit, and asked her to make a house call on Thursday morning. I was hopeful it was a bladder infection and was easily and cheaply rectifiable. I could not have been more wrong.

The Nix

The Nix

By 9:30 A.M. on Thursday morning Dr. Knowles, to her credit, had easily diagnosed The Nix with bladder stones but, feeling ill-equipped to treat or diagnose the full extent of the problem with x-rays and the like, passed us along to King George Veterinary Clinic for an emergency appointment. At K.G.V.C. our little girl’s x-rays revealed a blockage in the urethra as well as the bladder stones but they, like Dr. Knowles before them, felt ill prepared to do the surgery. To quote the attending veterinarian:”If she doesn’t have the surgery to remove the stones today or by early tomorrow she will die.” So once again we were passed along, this time to VCA Waldorf, MD. By mid afternoon I had to cancel work, I had yet to eat or feed my son, and now he and I and his sister were making an unscheduled emergency trip to Maryland.

In Maryland, VCA Waldorf couldn’t have been more helpful. They could do the surgery. They could save our 9-year old little girl’s life. It would only cost around $4,000! Prior to being handed that expense I had already racked up two other bills from the other two vets that already totaled over $600. Now I was being presented with a bill that the only way I could pay (since with uninsured pets you have to pay in full up front) was to draw out of my IRA at a penalty. I didn’t know what to do.

The Nix defiantly awaiting surgery

The Nix defiantly awaiting surgery

What a terrible question to have to ask oneself: Is my child’s life worth the money? The Nix is only nine; she could have many more years of life left if she undergoes the surgery. On the other hand, our disposable obsessive society sends very mixed and denigrating signals to its citizens on pets. Is the life of any pet worth almost $5,000? Do I just put her down and get another? Do I just buy more love somewhere else? She’s a pet, not a person, right? I’ve only raised her since she was six months old. She and I are only the last surviving inhabitants of my mother’s home in PA. I’d had to fight with a dear friend for possession of her after my mom accidentally gave The Nix away as she was vacating our house. She trusts me as her father to care for her. Does that trust mean anything? Fortunately, an alternative was waiting to be found.

VCA Waldorf, sensing that we just didn’t have the money they required to save our girl, suggested that we take her to a low cost clinic in Richmond called Helping Hands. H.H. could do the same surgery for us for only $650 if we could get her there by 9 AM tomorrow morning. The appointment was made, her records were faxed, and by 4 PM Friday afternoon Helping Hands of Richmond had discharged our little girl back into our care, her surgery a success. As I write this on Sunday afternoon, two days later, The Nix is resting comfortably, eating and drinking again, and to the best of our knowledge poised to make a recovery.

I can’t begin to thank enough all the vets and staff that were involved in the saving of our little girl’s life: Dr. Pauline Knowles and Beth Johnson, Mrs. Niznik of K.G.V.C. and their vets, the staff of VCA Waldorf, and finally and most importantly the veterinary staff of Helping Hands that ultimately did the surgery and saved our little girl’s life. So many wonderful people worked together to allow us to bring our little girl home and to all of them we are grateful.

That said, so far I’ve put out over $1300 in medical bills for the surgery and there are follow up appointments for a urinalysis, stitches removal, and the like looming on the horizon, and I can’t help but wonder what someone else would have done when faced with a similar dilemma. Why was the cost of the same surgery so vastly disparate at two different clinics: $650 vs. $4,000; just because one was in-patient and one was out-patient? Really? I realize there are economic factors to consider, the likes of which I’m not qualified to comment on, but what I do know is that because we can’t afford pet insurance we were put in the position of putting a price tag on our little girl’s life, and that’s a position that I personally don’t believe any parent should ever be put in.

At home after surgery in our cone of shame

At home after surgery in our cone of shame

Then again, it really shouldn’t be a surprise to me, since we can’t even agree as a nation that all human lives have value. There is certainly a segment of our society that is fine with letting people die if the price tag just doesn’t suit. I don’t count myself among them, and I know deep down that if Helping Hands didn’t exist I would’ve paid the $4,000 despite the hardship to my family. But this debate is just part of a larger conversation about the value of all life on our planet and, at the end of all this, I did the right thing by my child because I could afford to, and because there are good people who are willing to work at reduced cost because they love animals. Hopefully, at some point in the future of this country we’ll be able to agree that all life is precious and has value, and that money should not be the determinant of the quality and availability of care. Till then I fear we will continue to put price tags on our love and our loved ones. I’m just glad I was blessed to have enough in the bank to bring my little girl home.

Namaste,

Jason

Children’s Book Announcement: Daddy Doesn’t Purr

I haven’t written a post in about a month, but this one is an important one. On November 12th my first children’s book will come out on Amazon.com and CreateSpace.com. Daddy Doesn’t Purr (But I Love Him Anyway) is the story of Duke, my cat son’s, journey to accept me as his new daddy. Told from his point of view (and written by him – I just transcribed it) Daddy Doesn’t Purr is a short picture book for young readers about accepting our differences and about realizing that families come in many shapes, sizes, species, and configurations.

The book was beautifully illustrated by two of my wife’s cousins, Michelle and Francis McNally, and a portion of the sales from each book will be donated to two animal charities in Virginia: Meow Stories, who first fostered Duke before our adoption, and King George Animal Control, with whom I volunteer.

We’re hoping to donate some decent money to each organization over the holidays (when animals need the most help) so please help spread the word. I’m very excited to get this story out there and in print. If you’re looking for a sweet little stocking stuffer for a young loved one this Christmas, Hanukkah, or some other holiday of your choosing, please give it a thought.

Namaste and Meow

Jason (and Duke)

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